Category Archives: Holidays

Flying Holiday Flags

My father disliked holidays. My mother cherished them. My father’s rule was to treat every day equal. Mama made holidays something to remember. Not with elaborate decorations but from basics.

On New Year’s Day, we ate black-eyed peas and ham hocks with cornbread. Maybe because of Mama’s superstitious ways. Probably because there was no work for farm hands in the winter and that was the cheapest menu that would spread to two meals. I suppose the flag flew over the local post office and City Hall to declare it a holiday, but we didn’t venture out on that cold day.

The next month brought Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and George Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Flags flew again, on each day, declaring it a holiday, a day to stay home from school.

Spring brought Easter. Mama gathered eggs from our backyard chicken pen for several days. On Saturday, she filled an aluminum canning pot with water and carried it to the old gas range. She deposited the eggs one by one and hardboiled them. She rinsed the cooked eggs in the kitchen sink and spread them to dry on flour sack dishtowels on the mottled gray linoleum countertop. While the eggs cooled, she arranged a row of cups.  She filled the cups halfway with water, dropped one round colored tablet into each, and stirred until she achieved colors worthy of celebration. Hours later, the colored eggs rested in two Easter baskets, ready to be hidden in the yard for our personal egg hunt. Lots of fun but no flags.

On Decoration Day, we rode to the local cemetery with a brother-in-law to watch the somber task ahead. Young World War II veterans and a few survivors of World War I placed American flags on each veteran’s gravesite. A ceremony followed at ten o’clock. We listened to more somber words. Marines marched in precision, flower arrangements peeking between shined black shoes as they passed civilian graves along the paved route.

“Why, Mama?” I asked. “Why do those graves get flowers instead of flags?”

“Because it’s Decoration Day,” she said.

“It’s called Memorial Day now,” my brother-in-law said.

“Who named it that?” I asked.

“The gov’ment,” Mama said.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established June 14 as Flag Day. Not a holiday, but our neighbors displayed flags from the size on veterans’ graves to five-footers angled from flagpoles on porches. We would have joined them if we had owned a flag.

“Why all the flags? Is this another Decoration Day?” I asked.

“No, it’s Flag Day,” Mama said.

“Who named it that?”

“The gov’ment,” she said.

Armistice Day on November 11, brought another federal holiday. A somber tribute to the end of World War I in 1918 brought more parades and flags.

Today, May 27, 2019, is Memorial Day in the U.S. I clipped a six-inch flag to my door. There are no parades in the city where I live now. A few people will gather at the local cemeteries for brief ceremonies, a few words from a city official, and a military-style presentation of flags. Boaters fill the lake south of the city. Picnickers lounge in the sun, if it appears on this cloudy day. On the west side of town bordering a neighboring city, the freeway and city streets near the premium brands outlet mall are jammed with cars and tour buses transporting shoppers, some visiting from as far away as Asia.

Wait. Who moved Decoration Day from May 30 to the last Monday of May and renamed it Memorial Day?

My mother’s words echo the answer.

“The gov’ment.”

 

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New Year’s Resolutions 2019

Lose weight. Exercise more. Learn something new. All these are popular New Year’s resolutions according to Peter Economy on Inc. Statistics show that many abandon their goals the first week. Some manage 21 days. Even some of the hardy falter after 90 days. The stalwart hang on but few accomplish their goals.

I’ve been successful at keeping my New Year’s resolution for many years. My secret to success? Skip the resolutions. This year, a few celebrities have expressed that mindset.

Melinda Gates chooses a word for the year. Last year, her word was grace.

Oprah Winfrey reminds us to be careful what we chose. With a twist of humor, she advises not to ask for courage because you don’t know what you’ll have to go through to get it. She says she “lives in the moment.” Instead of making resolutions, she has written five things in a grateful journal each night since 1995.

I began my grateful journal with three things each night on New Year’s Day 2017.  I made it through the next day. I skipped a week, then a month. The last entry on May 24, 2018, was a single line. “I am grateful for the stability of a cane.”

This year, after a thirty-month absence from my journal, I wrote my chiropractor’s name.  Those treatments have made it possible for me to walk cane-free on most days and to sit at my computer for longer periods.

Perhaps I will end 2019 with gratitude that my novel has been published. Along the way, I will be grateful for my novel critique group who have helped me over the rough spots.

 

 

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Countdown to Christmas

Advent calendars begin the countdown to Christmas on the first day of December. My mother began the countdown in early fall when she put dolls on layaway for my twin and me. Papa commenced (his word choice) his countdown at Red’s Market, an easy four-block walk from home. My twin and I were too young to stay alone, so we tagged along with Papa and Mama.

I gazed at the candies, but Papa forged toward the open bins of nuts when they finished the regular list. His eyes darted between the tiny round hazelnuts and the heavy brazil nuts as though a major decision. Instead, he dipped a metal scoop into a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspected each and discarded those with imperfect shells. He poured the walnuts from the scoop into a lunch-size brown paper bag and centered it on the scale hanging from a chain. He checked the weight, calculated the price, and returned two or three walnuts to the bin. He added the cost to his pocket notebook.

At checkout, Papa double checked every price as Mr. Red rang up the items. Satisfied that the cash register total matched the notebook price, Papa extracted his tri-fold black leather billfold from his hip pocket. He transferred the rubber band onto his left wrist, removed a few dollar bills with his right hand, and gave them to Mr. Red. Papa slipped the wallet back in place then counted the change before he dropped the coins into his front pant pocket.

At home, Papa carried the sparse groceries into the kitchen for Mama to put away. He walked into the next room carrying the small bag of walnuts in one hand. He lifted the trap door in the dining room floor, twisted around, and descended the ladder-like steps into the dark hole. The coldness escaped and seeped into my bones. I saw the warm glow below when he pulled the cord hanging from the single light bulb attached to the ceiling. Metal scraped concrete as he pulled out the round storage can reserved for Christmas treats. Next, a distinct pop when he opened the lid. The sounds reversed when Papa snapped the lid closed and pushed the can back under the steps. Darkness again as he climbed the ladder.

On the next two grocery trips, Papa bought a scoop of hazelnuts, then brazil nuts. Mama’s wish for a fresh coconut was next on the list. After Thanksgiving, Papa examined the Christmas confections. Hard ribbon candy and tiny squares were his favorites. After each of these trips, he repeated the cellar rituals.

Winter work was scarce, so the last grocery trip before Christmas was for flour, sugar, and lard for baking. Papa calculated the prices, then stopped at the candy bins. He pushed the smallest scoop into the chocolate drops. Satisfied, he poured them into a small paper sack.

At home, he carried the tiny treasure toward the cellar. I asked for one. “Candies are for Christmas,” was his reply. The chocolates joined the other Christmas treats in the storage can.

On Christmas Eve morning, pleasant aromas permeated our modest home. While Mama cooked chicken and dressing, sweet potatoes, and pies, Papa trekked to the cellar several times and returned with the bags from the storage can.

I pleaded for the chocolate drops. Mama interceded, and surprisingly, Papa opened the bag and offered one each to my sister and me. I closed my eyes and bit slowly, hoping for the luscious taste of lemon or creamy maple. The center was artificial strawberry. My disappointment will be short-lived because I can eat all the chocolates I want tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Christmas.

 

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Thanksgiving Traditions

What’s on your Thanksgiving menu? In the United States, turkey is traditional. Various sides begin with stuffing (my mother called it dressing) flanked by macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, and other green or yellow vegetables. Then for dessert, there’s traditional pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Or perhaps, apple or pecan pie. Add a dollop of vanilla ice cream and bring on the hot coffee or tea.

Why do we call these foods traditional? Because they’ve been around a long time. How long? Definitely not the focus of the first Thanksgiving dinner which originated during fall harvest four centuries ago. According to the Smithsonian, venison and wild fowl were the mainstays. Sides aren’t mentioned, but corn seemed to be in abundance. And forget the pies, the Smithsonian says.

What? Pastry has been a favorite since ancient Greeks, and Queen Elizabeth I is credited with baking the first cherry pie. The American Pie Council says pies (first spelled pyes) were a tradition of the first English settlers to the Colonies, but the Smithsonian says they were absent from the Pilgrims’ table in 1621.

My mother, a descendant of French Huguenots who migrated to America to escape religious persecution, made her pie crusts with lard. She favored mincemeat, pumpkin, and apple fillings but made a variety depending on the tastes of who would be coming to dinner.

Dinner. The Pilgrims celebrated for three days, but dinner was at our house was at high noon in California, USA. Papa settled himself at the table laden with food, and lifted his watch, the chain firmly attached to his pocket, five minutes early. Perhaps he and Mama had a hidden signal, or perhaps from years of this tradition, she immediately called everyone to the dining room. The adults sat at the table—all but Mama. She stood behind the chairs with the children. At precisely twelve, Pacific Standard Time, Papa slid his watch back into his pocket and said the blessing over the food. After the Amen, mothers filled plates for their children to take to the kitchen table. Teens carried plates heaped with food to the living room or front porch, depending on the weather. Mama hustled back and forth to the kitchen refilling serving bowls with food. By the time she sat at the table with her children and their spouses, they were ready for dessert. Off she went again, carrying slices of pie to those who sat while she served.

After dinner, the women washed and dried the dishes and swept crumbs from the linoleum floors. Some of my brothers and my sisters’ husbands went outside to smoke—another of Papa’s house rules. Long before cell phones and video games, Thanksgiving was a day of food and conversation for adults, games for the kids. Lots of laughter. No TV—we couldn’t afford one—so the crowd thinned in late afternoon to go home and watch football in black and white.

That evening, long before home microwaves, Mama warmed leftovers on the kitchen stove. When the dishes were done, she boiled water, made herself a cup of tea, and rested.

 

 

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Truce

A signed armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 signaled the end of World War I. The first Armistice Day celebration was November 11,  1919. My parents had two children then. World War II ended September 2, 1945. At the end of WWII, my parents had nine children, ages six to thirty-one, and grandchildren ages up to age seven. Several of those grandsons later served in the Korean Conflict and Viet Nam.

We honored all the dead in our family—military and civilian—on Memorial Day and the living military men on Veterans Day. My mother called the May holiday Decoration Day and the November holiday Armistice Day. We spent the May morning at the Chowchilla Cemetery placing flowers on any veteran’s grave. After my father died in November 1953, my mother insisted that we adorn his grave with flowers on Armistice Day although he was a civilian during all the wars. She said, “It might look bad if his grave was bare on that day so many neighbors visited the cemetery.”

The red poppy became symbolic for Veterans Day, but my mother, a widow, seldom had a spare quarter to donate in exchange for the handmade paper flower. One year, the veteran accepted a dime and handed her a red paper poppy. She pinned it to the right side of her dress. When my brother-in-law, a WWII veteran, saw it, he insisted she move it over her heart. To keep the peace, a truce of sorts, she wore it there until he left. Then, she moved it back to the right side.

“What’d you do that for, Grandma?” one of the grandsons born during World War II asked. “The vets pin their poppies on the left.”

“That’s why I moved it,” she said, her black brows drawn together. “They’re men, but I’m a woman.”

 

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Salute to President Abraham Lincoln

I have posted the same humorous tale on several Presidents’ Day blogs. Today, I omit the dual focus of George Washington and salute President Abraham Lincoln.

I toured the 2009 Library of Congress Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition, With Malice Toward None, in Sacramento, California. My steps through multi-level floors of exhibits echoed like a true walk through history. The artifacts included Lincoln’s inaugural Bible, a lithograph of the Emancipation Proclamation, a scrapbook of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and Lincoln’s handwritten Farewell Address. As stated in the California Museum tour booklet, “By placing Lincoln’s words in a historical context . . . the exhibition provides a deeper understanding of how remarkable Lincoln’s decisions were for their time and why his words continue to resonate today.”

Mr. Lincoln would be rejected as a political party candidate today.  He would be considered undereducated (not enough diplomas on his attorney’s office wall) and not attractive enough for TV appearances. In his day, he seldom—if ever—appeared in public without his layers of formal attire of a waistcoat (vest) over a white shirt and black bowtie beneath a wool frock coat. He would not have stepped outside without his black silk top hat. I suspect his shoes were shined—maybe by his own hand—but surely not by an enslaved servant. Today he would be expected to ditch his favorite attire for something informal—perhaps coatless with rolled-up sleeves similar to the Rosie the Riveter poster during World War II.

Lincoln’s words were delivered with a sharp punch that bested his nineteenth-century adversaries. Now, following each speech, treasured statements of history would be ripped apart by news analysts trying to discover his true meaning. Others would second-guess his motives hidden in the sarcastic humor meant to disarm his opponent. A third team would be at work lining up prominent political endorsements in case Lincoln might be the first choice of the Republican party.

One thing that would make Lincoln stand tall today, even if hatless, would be his historical comebacks in his word-sparing with opponents coupled with his common-sense statements in office. As the agony from the weight of the Civil War fell upon him, he declared “If there is a place worse than hell, I am in it.”

I treasure my copy of Abraham Lincoln: Mystic Chords of Memory, a Selection from Lincoln’s Writings. This 79-page softcover book published in 1984 is filled with lengthy quotes from Lincoln’s writings that give me insight into the turmoil he faced. But I seldom read the pages of lengthy quotes. Lincoln’s greater resonance is from his commonsense statements seldom mentioned. One simple quote from The Lincoln Treasury rings true today as it did when spoken.

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.

The same applies to blogs. I wish I had known Abraham Lincoln as my foster child suggested in my 2015 Presidents’ Day post.

 

 

 

 

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Special Assignment

This is a true story of a defining moment in my life from my book, In the Right Place: A Gallery of Treasured Moments (Carr Twins & Co. 2006). This revision is as fitting today, January 15, 2018, as the nation observes the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, as it was when first published.

The scene: Proof machines clatter and a check sorter hums with activity outside the manager’s door in a bank Operations Center. A West Coast transplant to the Deep South is being briefed on her new assignment, a dark secret that is about to change this workplace forever.

 

“James wants to see you in his office when you finish that batch of deposits,” my supervisor said.  Except for annual performance reviews, a summons to his office was rare and seldom good news.

“I asked you here to give you a special assignment,” James said. “Because of your California background, you are the most likely person for this job. “You are used to working with different people,” he said, emphasizing different. “We want you to train Mary, our newest employee.”

Because of my previous experience and my accuracy and speed, I had been training employees since shortly after being employed by this bank. What could be so special about training another new employee?

James, who was usually quite fluent, was hesitant as he explained that the federal government was intruding where it had no right and telling our bank how to run its business. President Lyndon Johnson had signed something called a civil rights bill, so we were being forced to hire our first Negro employee. His southern drawl emphasized negro as though his lips were unfamiliar with the word. Management had decided to place Mary in the Operations Department to shield her from public contact.

I reminded James that Mary would be our second black staff member. The main office employed an African-American porter who made coffee and cleaned the kitchen. “That’s different,” he said with no further explanation.

I was embarrassed by the way the employees treated Mary on her first work day when I introduced her to each of them. I thought time would make a difference. How wrong I was! They moved their coffee cups to their workstations. At break time, Mary and I went alone. The others worked during my assigned lunch period, leaving me alone with Mary every day.  Afternoon break was no different.  When Mary was in the kitchen, they stayed out. When they entered as we left, they scrubbed the tables and wiped the chairs before being seated. None of the ladies entered the restroom for weeks after Mary arrived.  Only my direct supervisor and the manager spoke to me unless absolutely necessary for workflow.  After many weeks of this routine, it was clear that I, along with Mary, had been ostracized for exposing the staff to a new and uncomfortable experience.

I was appalled at the southern traditions that denied minorities access to restaurants and forced them to sit in back seats on public buses. I disapproved of segregated schools and churches. Although I felt strongly about these disgraces, I disapproved of ineffective—and dangerous—protest marches and sit-ins. By accepting a special assignment that others refused, I made enemies, but I left a mark in history. No holiday will be named for me. My statue will never stand in a public place. But by giving hope to one person during the civil rights movement, I changed the future of a corporate entity.

 

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